Wholeness and healing are promises that God holds out to us. But, what does this mean? What does this look like? These are things that I explored in my sermon at the first of (I hope!) our now regular Wholeness and Healing service. The service itself was based on the Common Worship Wholeness and Healing services.
For the sermon itself, I was greatly helped by a sermon by Tim and Liz Carter, and an article that Liz Carter has written entitled God in my hurting. And what does all this have to do with the picture of Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish? Read on and find out…! (This is a slightly edited version of the sermon I gave).
I’m sure many of you, like me have been watching the Olympics. I’ve already enjoyed watching the football and the excellent opening ceremony, and I’m looking forward to some of the other sports. And of course, there’s lots of opportunities to discover obscure sports that you didn’t know you enjoyed – mainly because Britain is doing well in them! Or is that just me? I remember staying up past midnight watching the British women winning the curling gold medal at the 2002 winter Olympics. I’m still not sure I understand the rules though…
But one of the sports that I’ve always enjoyed watching is the cycling. The first sporting event I can ever remember my dad taking me to was the stage finish of the Tour of Britain in Buxton. So, it’s been great watching the Tour de France this year and seeing Bradley Wiggins win the yellow jersey.
As you probably know that’s the first time that a Brit has won the Tour de France, having cycled over 2,000 miles in 20 days. Obviously a lot of that is due to Wiggins’ own skill and dedication. But, a lot of it is due to the vision of Dave Brailsford. He is the performance director of British cycling. It was Dave Brailsford’s vision to set up a British road cycling team, with the goal of winning the Tour within 5 years. Three years later he’s done just that. It was his vision that held out a different way of looking at the future. It was his vision that inspired people and made things happen.
And both of our readings today are inspiring visions that hold out hope for the future, that show how things can be different, and that make that future a reality. The book of Revelation was written to inspire some of the first Christians who were persecuted and suffering, who were struggling and afraid. It was written to leave you with a series of vivid images, that you’re much more likely to remember whatever the circumstances and however bad they get. It’s about giving us a picture of the future, not giving us precise details.
And the part of Revelation that we heard gives us a sense of the ultimate hope that we can look forward to. It points us towards the sort of future that we can look forward to. It’s a future where God is with his people, where the creation is restored, where the new earth is peopled by God’s children, us, if we choose. And in this new earth we are promised that there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. So, then, this vision of God’s promised future, of God’s kingdom helps us to understand what wholeness and healing looks like. On the front of your order of service there is an introduction to the service:
Jesus sets before us the hope of the kingdom of God. All that is broken will be bound up in God’s healing love. All that is marred by weakness and sin will be transformed by God’s reconciling love.
In his humanity, Jesus took on himself our weakness and bore our sins. The Holy Spirit is present in the struggles and groaning of a world subject to decay, bringing to birth the freedom and glory of God’s new creation. It is in this hope that we bring to God our prayers and our penitence, and look to God for the new life of the kingdom.
The reading from Revelation shows us what that hope of the kingdom of God looks like, where our brokenness is made whole by God’s healing love. It shows us that God’s reconciling love will transform all of creation.
This vision is also shown in the words that Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah: good news to the poor, freedom for prisoners, sight for the blind, the oppressed released. This is the vision of wholeness that Jesus tells us was fulfilled in him. Notice that healing is part of this, but by no means all of it.
Wholeness is about knowing the freedom and glory of God’s new creation. It is about the whole of creation being rescued from the bondage of decay, as Paul put it in one of his letters. Wholeness is about being set free to be all that God calls and enables us to be. Wholeness is about being exactly who God created us to be, using all of our God-given talents to worship God. And, as we fall short of that vision for us, we need to seek greater wholeness in our lives. And, as creation fall short of that vision, we need to seek to bring greater wholeness to others and to all of God’s creation. We sang:
Father, I place into your hands
The person I would be,
For I know I always can trust you.
That is what seeking wholeness is about, about asking God to help us be the ‘person I would be’. That is what wholeness looks like, God enabling us to be the person he longs us to be.
And part of this wholeness is of course seeking healing for ourselves and others. And healing is a part of what Jesus offered. As we read through the gospels we hear of numerous people that he healed, that he restored to the wholeness of being once more part of the community of God’s chosen people. And healing is still a part of what Jesus offers to us, part of the wholeness that is the hope of the kingdom of God.
Healing is part of God’s kingdom breaking into this world. It is a foretaste of the future God wants us to be part of. It’s a foretaste of the future, not a magic spell that always works. And, the healing that does happen, the ways in which people are brought to greater wholeness, are only temporary and partial. They are temporary because we will die. They are partial because God’s kingdom has not yet fully come. But, it will. And the healings that happen are signposts towards that future, symbols of what that future will look like.
Personally, I’m still recovering from Cavendish’s failure to win the Olympic road race yesterday. We saw that even with a world class team and a world class vision things don’t always turn out like we want them to. Unfortunately that’s quite a good illustration of some of the frustrations of praying for healing.
We have a good friend who suffers from a chronic lung disease. She was a teacher, but had to give it up because she’s too ill to work. She also has to spend time in hospital being treated. She wrote about her experiences of praying for healing. She said: “when you pray for me God does work. Just not always how we would expect or even hope. God is in our hurting as well as our healing. You can be assured that God listens and God loves. And sometimes, that is enough.”
God is at work. God does desire for us to be brought to wholeness and healing. And God knows that we’d like that now, please, not in some far off future. And, sometimes, God is gracious enough to answer our prayers on our timetable in the way that we’d like. And, sometimes, God is gracious enough not to. And, sometimes, God doesn’t answer in the way we’d like and we don’t know why. Quite a few of the Psalms are complaints to God about his failure to answer the psalmist’s prayers. And quite a few of the Psalms are praises to God for answering the psalmist’s prayers. Both happened and both still happen.
Cyclists tell me that the good part about struggling up a steep hill is the thought of free-wheeling down the other side. Of course, that doesn’t make the struggle any less, but the hope of what is to come keeps them going.
In our readings we heard the inspiring vision of God’s future that we can all be a part of. Dave Brailsford had an inspiring vision of what British cycling could look like. That vision caused things to change, people to be drawn in, and work to make that vision a reality.
God holds out to us the possibility of an even more inspiring vision, a vision where there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain. This is a vision of our future, and it is also a vision of our present. In the future wholeness will be ours, including healing. In the present, God longs for us to know his love, his kingdom, his healing, his wholeness. Let us reach out to God to take hold of what we are offered. Let us indeed look to God for the new life of the kingdom, and let us pray that this new life will break into our own lives in ways that are beyond our imagining. Amen.